“Unless the Lord builds the house…” {New Year’s thoughts}

Happy New Year!!

So many of my friends and folks I follow have been sharing their resolutions, plans, and goals for 2017. I’ve spent this week working through my own goal-setting game plan, and I now have 8 specific goals that I’m excited to work on this year.

And I finally decided to take the plunge and order an Anchored Press planner for 2017. I might write a more detailed post about that in the future, but so far I am loving it! The short version: In addition to the usual schedule and to-dos, it has a daily devotional and other tools to help nurture your spiritual life.

One of those tools is a goal setting page in the front. There’s a spot at the top of the page to write a Bible verse for the year. Honestly, I’m not usually the sort of person to choose a single word or verse to define my year, but I am the sort of person who hates to leave things blank (haha). I decided to choose something that would help me have the right frame of mind when I come back to reflect on the goals below it.

After a few days, I finally settled on Psalm 127:1a:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

You’re probably more familiar with verses 3-5 of this Psalm, which talks about how children are a blessing from the Lord. But when I read Psalm 127 for the first time a few years ago, I was most struck by the first two verses. Altogether they read:

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

[Psalm 127:1-2]

The reason these verses struck me the way they did was because of how they contrast with Proverbs 31. At that time, I was either engaged or newly married, and like many Christian women looking for advice on being a good wife, I kept coming across articles about the Proverbs 31 woman. They were either talking about how to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, or how we shouldn’t feel pressured to be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife. I tended to agree with this second assessment, but still felt that the woman described in this passage was a good ideal to aspire to. I wrote some of the verses on note cards, put them in my planner, or made them a phone background. Some of my favorites were:

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.

[Proverbs 31:15]

 

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

[Proverbs 31:27]

These verses encouraged me to be intentional with my time, careful not to waste it. It’s a reminder I still sometimes need.

But I am prone to begin believing that my worth or salvation are dependent on my ability to keep these tenants. In some seasons of life, I have felt that every evening I wasted away on the internet or morning I slept past my alarm was some permanent black mark on my record. I have judged myself on how many to-do list items I had checked off at the end of each day.

So, in one of these seasons, the words of Psalm 127 spoke straight to my heart. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” In my fear of the “bread of idleness,” I had been stuffing myself with a different bread, and not realizing the toll it was taking on my soul.

I know I’m not the only one. In our culture, Christian and otherwise, we pride ourselves on productivity and business and will power. Anxiety disorders are becoming more common as we place more stress on ourselves than we’re designed to handle long-term.

But God’s word teaches a different way.

The Bible tells us this: That we are indeed held to a high standard, higher even than what we could come up with for ourselves. That we are not capable of meeting this benchmark. BUT, that God himself came and fulfilled those requirements on our behalf so that we can walk in freedom. It is not by our own works, but by the work of Christ in us, that we are saved.

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

[Matthew 19:26b]

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

[Ephesians 2:8-9]

I’m so glad that it’s not all up to me, because I am not as “good” as I wish I were!

Today during our worship service, our pastor preached on Hosea 6. In verses 1-3, the Israelites speak of returning to God, but God knows that they cannot keep a promise to remain faithful. He even says that their love is like the morning dew: here one moment, gone the next (verse 4).

The truth is, we are like the Israelites too, making promises to ourselves and to God, but failing often to keep even the most simple ones.

The good news is, God is faithful. If you skip ahead in Hosea, after God’s promises to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness, in the last chapter (14) God promises to eventually call them to repentance and forgive their sins. Not because of anything they do, but because of who he is.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.

[Hosea 14:4]

 

It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.

[Hosea 14:8b]

How good is it that our fruit comes from the Lord!? When I can remember that, it fills me with so much peace. I’m able to work on my goals and aspirations, but without the weight of the world (or my own salvation) on my shoulders.

Which brings me back to Psalm 127. The reason I chose this first verse to help shape my 2017 is because I constantly need this reminder.

There is definitely wisdom in avoiding the “bread of idleness” (it is in the book of wisdom, after all), but I don’t want to trade it for the “bread of anxious toil.” Christ came to give us himself, the bread of life, and letting him “build the house” of my life and goals is far more important to me than any other specifics.

That’s good news I want to reflect on all year long.

With hope because of Christ,

Andria

*All verses are from the ESV

Choosing to hope when life gets rough

Can I be honest, y’all? A few weeks ago, I had a really hard week.

My husband is frustrated with certain aspects of his job. And for one reason or another, his anxiety was running high, which means his OCD symptoms were especially bad.

I am teaching this semester, and some students were taking more energy out of me than I expected. That week I had little left for being patient with my poor husband.

We argued and bickered throughout the week about stupid and some not-so-stupid things.

On Wednesday night, I found myself angry-cleaning, as if I was going to prove something by washing the dishes. I put on some music and threw myself a nice little pity party, making a mental list of all the things my husband does wrong or doesn’t do right. I was feeling pretty self-righteous, because I’m obviously a perfect wife who never does anything wrong, right?

Fortunately for me, Matt hates when one of us is mad more than I do. His humble apologies eventually brought me down off my high horse. The end of the week went slightly more smoothly, but only just.

This is our habit, as humans. It’s easy to find something to be upset about when you’re looking for it. And lately, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve been looking for it.

I hate living in a spiral of negativity, and when I realized what a toll it was taking on me and on others, I decided something had to give.

Instead of looking for those bad things, I’m choosing to reflect on the good.

This isn’t about some vague idea that thinking positively will make your life better or easier. The truth is that life on earth is sometimes hard, and no number of positive quotes on your wall will change that. But God is the one consistent, unchanging good in the world, and so I choose to reflect on his goodness.

I’m choosing to remember how much goodness He showed us last year when my husband lost his job two weeks before Christmas. How He used that time to teach us about sacrifice and to bring us closer together. How the job that sometimes frustrates (as all jobs can) was a gift to us in a time of uncertainty. How God has given me opportunities to grow as a teacher, even before I know it was something I wanted to be good at. How I hoped and prayed for my future husband for years, and how obvious it became after I met Matt that God had the plan in motion all along.

Most importantly, that even when nothing in this world goes right, I have a hope for all eternity in Christ.

This is my comfort in my affliction,
That Your word has revived me and given me life.

Psalm 119:50 [AMP]

It’s not always easy. I’m still far too prone to get caught up in so-called #firstworldproblems, like not being able to find a parking spot in the morning. But my prayer for myself, especially in the coming season of reflection, is that I would be able to move past that temptation to focus on the negative of this minute’s situation, and instead reflect on the goodness of the One who never changes.

My pride problem

I’m not very good at practicing what I preach.

Alternatively, you could say that I started this blog as a means of preaching to myself the message I need to hear most.

The road of self-reliance leads only to discontentment. The only hope worth holding onto is the saving grace of Christ.

I have a pride problem, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to see this sin with any sort of clarity.

Growing up, I was what you call a “good kid.” I didn’t party, or smoke pot, or have sex like other teens I knew. I went to ballet class and did my homework. I attended youth group and volunteered as a tutor. And I reaped the benefits of this “goodness.” I made good grades and earned favor with teachers. I often had adults tell me how mature and responsible I was. My parents generally let me do what I wanted because they trusted me. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I felt “good.”

It wasn’t until much later in life that I saw my younger self how I really was: I was prideful. I took pride in being good and being thought to be good. I felt self-righteous about how I compared to my peers. I was bad at being religious, but I figured that I wasn’t that bad a person anyway. My pride kept me from seeing my need for Jesus.

Over the years, God has worked on humbling my heart and helping me see the depths of my sin. It’s still a daily struggle not to rely on my own good works, but instead to be wholly dependent on the perfect grace of Christ.

Sometimes, that pride problem still lurks.

Sometimes, I’m able to have all my stuff together. I make freezer meals, get up in the morning without hitting snooze, and pray for everyone I say I’m going to. In those brief periods of time, I take pride in my ability to handle “it all.”

Sometimes, I have none of my things together. I wake up late, don’t open my Bible for days, and we eat cereal for dinner. In those periods of time, I blame everything and everyone but myself, too prideful to admit that I am not perfect.

It’s too easy to take pride in being a “good” Christian. “Good” student. “Good” wife. To forget that, while certain goals and habits are beneficial, they are not necessary hoops I have to jump through.

The truth is: Nothing I do, good or bad, will take me closer to or farther from God. He has already bridged the gap in His Son, and I am saved by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection.

I wanted to start this blog as a way to share my heart as I learn to live in light of this Good News. But somehow I turned it into another one of those “things” I have to have together in order to meet my own definition of success.

For that reason, I’ve taken a break from writing, long enough for me to miss it again. I’ve decided that, for now at least, I’m only going to write when I have something in particular to say. For me, it’s far more important to keep my heart healthy than to write a post every week.

I hope this post, and other future posts, whatever the topic, encourage you to press more deeply into God’s grace, and to let go of perfectionism and pride.

-Andria

My pride problem

Staying grounded in the gospel during election season

Those of us in the U.S. can agree that it has been a rough election year so far (at least there is one thing we can all agree on, right?). There is so much going on in our country and around the world; it’s hard to know how to feel about all of it. Making matters worse, everyone is trying to tell us what we should think and what opinions we should have and how we should vote. If you’re like me, you might be overwhelmed by it all, wanting to be an engaged, informed citizen, but wondering how to do that in a gospel-centered way.

My husband, Matt, and I tend towards opposite reactions to this kind of turmoil. Matt has a degree in history, and likes to stay on top of current events. He watches and reads the news frequently, and tends to be very emotionally invested in whatever is going on. He has very strong opinions. I, on the other hand, find that I am easily overwhelmed by the information and emotions of a situation. I dislike conflict by nature, so I get lost in opposing viewpoints, and find it difficult to decide where I stand. As a result, I have generally disengaged from current events as much as possible, and have sometimes called myself “apolitical.”

In light of this year, I have been feeling especially convicted about my approach to engaging with the world (or lack thereof). As Christ followers, I feel we are absolutely called to participate in our culture’s conversations in a redemptive way. After talking with Matt one morning about this, Jess Connolly posted this on Instagram, and I loved the phrase she used to describe her husband’s style of engaging with people: “to care without carrying.”

To care about the world because we know that God cares about the world, without carrying the world’s burdens because we know our God is sovereign. To be engaged in that public dialogue without worrying because we know our hope is not found there.

My goal is that  today’s post would encourage you with the hope we do have in Christ, and to push us to think about how to engage with the world and with politics with the gospel in mind. These are a few things I am attempting to meditate on throughout this season.

 

Perspective

God is in control

The Bible as a whole tells the story of a God who is sovereign over all things. One of my favorite examples is the story of Joseph  at the end of Genesis. Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him, and so they sell him into slavery in Egypt. But Joseph remains faithful to his God, and he is eventually put in charge of all of Egypt, the pharaoh’s most trusted servant. His leadership enables his brothers, with many other people, to come to Egypt to buy grain in the midst of a fierce famine. When he finally reveals himself to his brothers, and forgives them for their sin against him, it is not because of anything they have done, but because he recognizes the sovereignty of God:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

We can likewise rest and trust in God’s good plan.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

This is not a promise that we will have easy lives, but rather that we have Jesus and the Holy Spirit in all things, enabling us to live according to God’s will.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Notice that Jesus says we will have troubles in this world, immediately after saying that we can have peace. In Him, the two are not mutually exclusive!

 

 Our hope is not of this world

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20-21

Ultimately, no matter what happens in the world, in politics, in our own lives, we know that it is all temporary. That’s true when we are suffering and when we are rejoicing. This knowledge can help us stay grounded in Christ when things are going well (not putting our hope and joy in these things), and when they aren’t.

 

Our calling

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37-40

It’s important to remember before, during, and after getting involved in politics that our ultimate calling as believers is to love God and love others. Politics only matter inasmuch as they help us do those two things. Love for God and people should be the lens through which we view any conversation, Facebook post, or vote.

 

Inward unity

 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 1:10

This passage speaks specifically about believers who were claiming allegiance with one church leader or another, but we know from the rest of Paul’s letter that the Corinthians had a hard time with unity in general. In chapter 6, he fusses at them for taking lawsuits against each other before the court. Not only are they having these problems, but they are airing their dirty laundry in front of non-believers! He later reminds them, in chapter 12, that they are all individual members of one body. Paul’s hope is that others may be saved, and he knows that the church’s witness is undermined by both private and public disunity. I think we can apply those principles today, when political discourse becomes an excuse to point fingers at “other” Christians. I don’t believe it is necessary for every Christian to agree on a particular party or candidate, but I do think we should be careful in the way we speak to each other about these secondary things (see above).

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:35

 

Outward love

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:43-45

This is a popular verse, often pulled by Christians and non-believers alike in contexts exactly like this post. But, it’s not a very popular verse to practice. It’s difficult to pray for people like members of ISIS, who are literally murdering Christians and others who don’t agree with their ideology. It’s also difficult to pray for the friend who is always sharing anti-Christian posts on Facebook. However, Jesus prayed for his persecutors with his dying breath, saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). How might our perspective on the world change if we truly prayed for and recognized our “enemies” as broken people in need of God’s grace?

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:12-17

1 Peter is a letter written to a group of believers who were living as exiles. In the comfort of a country like the United States, we can forget that we are also in exile, waiting for a future home, and get angry when we are reminded of this reality because this world doesn’t welcome us in every way. But notice that Peter doesn’t call the Christians he is addressing to get angry and spend their time trying to make the rest of their country look more “Christian.” Instead, he calls them to live humble, good lives and to “honor the emperor.” I think he recognizes this as one of the best ways we can witness to the world (compare 1 Peter 3:1-2, addressing wives, especially of unbelieving husbands). We are free people, but we can use that freedom to live radical lives that point others toward Christ. I don’t have specific recommendations about what this looks like today; it most likely looks a little different in a modern democracy where we do have some say in how our country runs. Regardless, I think we should use this mindset as a filter for our words and actions around political matters.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

Going a step further, Paul calls us here to pray for “all those in authority.” Keep in mind that the early church was often persecuted by political and religious leaders, so he likely doesn’t take this statement lightly. Even when the president or your mayor says or does something you don’t agree with, what would it look like to pray for them, for their families, for their salvation?

It’s my hope that we, the Church, can be defined by this sort of revolutionary love, not because we’ve “given in” to the world’s swaying, but because we are so confident in who we are in Christ.

 

Do you feel as overwhelmed by this election season as I do? How do you remind yourself that our hope is in the gospel and not in this world?

Saying grounded in the gospel during election season